Nereia Cormier, a ubiquitous presence in the Tampa Democratic scene over the past couple of years, worked for Henriquez this summer on his campaign to replace Rob Turner. The government and world history professor at Plant High was so integral to the former Democratic House member's victory in November, he asked her to leave her teaching job to become the director of community relations.
"I am community outreach. I set up events for Bob," the 33-year-old told CL last week at a reception in Ybor City held in her new boss' honor. "After we go through the office in the next six months, we're going to add employee relations to my job description also. Coming from a teaching background, I can do employee trainings as well." (Cormier said one of her tasks during her first day on the job was making the office more accessible to the community, which meant setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts.)
Cormier admits that a year ago she would have a hard time telling you anything about the office where she now works (located on the 15th floor of County Center in Downtown Tampa). But then again, a year ago nobody thought Bob Henriquez (or Ronda Storms for that matter) would have entered a race against 16-year-incumbent Rob Turner, who was never seriously challenged since his upset victory over Democrat Ron Alderman back in 1996.
Cormier was involved in some capacity at Plant High since 2006, becoming a full-time instructor three years ago. She said leaving was one of the hardest decisions she's had to make.
"I loved teaching. I love my students. I love the administrators and the faculty I worked with. And when I told my students, I spent the whole day crying. Every time I would start to tell them I would start crying and they'd cry. I had a really good rapport with them. I teach government, and they know how much I love it and how passionate I am about it so they were very happy for me," she said.
Cormier replaced Dalia Gray, who retired in December after a 10-year run.
In addition to Cormier, Bill Ward is now the agency's new public information officer, becoming the latest local reporter to switch to the other side. Ward covered prep sports while at the Tampa Tribune, which meant occasional interactions with Henriquez, who has been coaching high school football at Tampa Catholic for 17 seasons before stepping down last month.
Cormier will coordinate an open house later this year as one of her steps to make the property appraiser's office more accessible to the public.
"It's very exciting. I teach government and now I'm working within local government. I am involved in local politics, I loved being on the campaign trail and going to neighborhood association meetings and community events, and now I get to do this full time," she said.